Have you ever stood on the sideline of a youth soccer game and heard the constant demand from the coach to pass the ball? It might seem intuitive that in a team game the coach should teach kids, from an early age, to pass the ball to their team mates. However, this is where the most counter-intuitive thinking, from the the greatest youth soccer system in the world, tells us to do the exact opposite. That’s correct. Barcelona’s Youth Academy, La Masia, that has produced probably the greatest (and most creative) player of all time, Lionel Messi — not to mention the countless other creative superstars from its academy and the club’s vast trophy cabinet — has a radically different approach.
Their message is a simple one: young players should focus on enjoyment and have as many touches on the ball as possible to foster confidence, technical mastery and creativity. The mistakes that will happen from dribbling are exactly how the players will learn, grow and become even more confident and creative. I can hear you thinking: ‘Doesn’t that mean the kids will lose more games?’
Here’s another gem from The Barcelona Academy that’s also add odds with conventional wisdom. Their belief is that young players will automatically learn about tactics through experience and games during practice; and, the young players have countless years before they need to worry about winning. Yes, that’s correct. They place zero emphasis on winning until the players move up into the senior teams. The first question after a game is not ‘Did you win or lose?’ rather ‘How did you play?’ This approach distinctly ignores results at the developmental stages. Their main concern is that results often conceal the growth and development necessary to produce a solid, final product — which only happens many, many years later.
This is monumental concept. The greatest soccer club in the history of the game has their youth focus on work ethic, competitiveness and development over winning. (Did we mention that the kids at La Masia also spend more time doing homework than playing soccer in order to produce smarter players?)
Using lessons from this approach we can draw some valuable lessons about nurturing creative children:
(1) Let kids run with their individuality and explore on their own.
(2) Focus on long term growth, work ethic & development over short term results.
(3) NEVER EVER discourage creativity in children; rather, inspire them to take risks.
(Please read this point again and again)
(4) Let kids make mistakes over and over again. That’s how we learn!
(5) Enjoyment leads to confidence which leads to greater levels of creativity.
Source: Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, Graham Hunter